Watching the Glenn Beck show this past month, one might have assumed that Van Jones had assaulted Beck, insulted his wife, and stolen his kids' lunch money. Beck devoted time on a whopping 16 shows to crafting a distorted, despicable portrait of Van that few who know him would recognize. As political smears go, it was as serious as it gets.
But make no mistake: this attack was not about Van Jones. Beck, in league with big business groups, is seeking to derail the President's progressive agenda, and taking out Van became the vehicle for undermining clean energy and green jobs.
There was another, more personal motivation too. Beck was trying to change the subject from the previous week, when headlines were dominated by dozens of major advertisers dropping his show. Beck had no choice but to up the ante, and at the same time indirectly take on the group responsible for his shrinking ad roster. His distortions not surprisingly found purchase on other Fox News shows, spread to the mainstream media, and rather than let this circus distract from the relaunch of health care and the rest of the President's agenda, Van chose to fall on his sword.
In the fallout, one thing is certain: wherever Van decides to go from here he will be a force. But now that he has left the White House, it's time to change the subject back to Beck.
Why the boycott matters
There is no doubt that Glenn Beck has a big platform. But what supports his platform is advertising dollars, and that support is crumbling. To date, 62 companies have pulled their ads from Beck's show, including six new companies announced yesterday -- Aegon, Ashley Furniture, Humana, Luxottica Retail (parent of LensCrafters and Pearle Vision), United States Postal Service and Wyeth Consumer Healthcare. These aren't liberal activists wringing their hands over Beck's distortions. These are the bastions of American capitalism saying they don't want their brands associated with Glenn Beck's extremism. The only companies left are direct marketers (think Egg Genie and gold coins) and a handful of private companies headed by right-wingers.
The exodus of major advertisers makes a powerful statement about how far Beck lies from the mainstream. Which is why it's so important to keep the heat on. Advertisers walking away for a week or two is one thing. But as weeks turn to months, and Beck becomes increasingly isolated, it renders his rants permanently fringe. Why would anyone (the White House or otherwise) respond to someone whose views are too toxic for any respectable corporation?
A word on the boycott's origins
After ColorOfChange launched our campaign, some bloggers and reporters tried to discredit the effort by claiming that we launched the campaign to protect Van. It's an absurd accusation. Van hasn't worked with ColorOfChange in years, and our concern about Beck was far bigger than slights against a former colleague. We began our campaign for the same reason 180,000 people have joined us: Glenn Beck called the president of the United States a "racist" who "has a deep seated hatred for White people," which was just the latest example of his virulent race-baiting and fear-mongering.
A line in the sand
In the wake of Van's resignation, some have wondered whether kicking the Beck hornet's nest makes sense. I've got two thoughts in response. First, Beck and Fox trying to change the topic and counter-attacking with such force is probably a good indicator that we're getting to them; if anything, now would be the time to go harder. Second, I believe we have no choice. Beck has promised to take his witch-hunt to others in the administration, and has set his sights on Cass Sunstein as his next target. He has no plans to stop, and neither should we.
But it's not just "czar"-hunting that's at stake here. The right wing media machine, of which Beck is now one of the leading members, is the single greatest force standing in the way of change. They have already helped derail the conversation on health care, elevating accusations of Obama's alliance with the Third Reich to some semblance of credibility. And they will do the same to the upcoming debates over clean energy, immigration, and every progressive policy priority. We simply don't have the luxury of ignoring them. We must challenge them head on, expose their distortions, take away their advertisers, and position their views where they belong: far outside the bounds of any rational political discourse.
That is why ColorOfChange is redoubling our efforts to starve Beck of advertising dollars, and why we hope you will join us. The time has come to draw a line in the sand, not because of what Glenn Beck did to Van Jones, but because of what he could do to our democracy if left unchecked.
Follow James Rucker on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jrucker